Next month will mark 18 years since my first digital food photo. Whew. Oddly enough, I didn’t have any interest in food photography until I studied abroad in Asia; in other words, I have many digital photos from before August 2004, but they were mostly just blurry images of airports, or my hands covering the lens.
Well then, what was my first food photo? A slice of pizza? Gum? A picture of me face-down next to a bottle of tequila?
In August 2004, my dad and I were visiting Singapore (and subsequently Bangkok) for the first time. During one of our frequent dips into a shopping center for much-coveted air conditioning, we decided to check out a random restaurant. Neither of us knew what they were serving, which made it that much more enticing curious.
Turns out, it was Thai hot pot, called suki (สุกี้) in Thai.
Having scarcely eaten Thai food, let alone any sort of hot pot, getting served a big ol’ plate of je ne sais quoi was a good primer for Thailand. To this day, I haven’t figured out what was boiling in that pot, but I can tell you that I haven’t had it since.
Do you remember/have your first digital food photo?
What’s that floating by the cash register of many Japanese, Taiwanese, and Korean convenience stores? It’s called oden (おでん), something you will generally see once the colder months kick in.
The big question: What is oden? It’s a type of hot pot in which fish plays an important role, both in the stock – also known as dashi, made of kelp and katsuobushi – and as a bobbing ingredient. Eggs, a starch called konjac, tofu, and various pieces of vegetables and meat commonly round out the oden basin. Another ingredient is called shirataki (白滝) is sometimes part of the oden pot; it is made of the root of the elephant yam, also known as konjac. This root contains a fiber called glucomannan which makes you feel full for a longer period of time.
You can even find your favorite oden in a vending machine. Collect all 1000.
From left to right, ganmo (がんも)- a disc of fried tofu with vegetables; gyuu suji (牛すじ)- beef tendon; tsumire (摘入/つみれ)- fish balls.
Now, we’re going to focus on one member of the oden clan: chikuwa.
Chikuwa (竹輪) is a tube-shaped fish paste cake.
Unusually, I noticed on a Japanese television channel a man playing a chikuwa as a flute.
Coincidentally, a few years later, while on a trip to Okayama I happened to pass by this statue of what else, Chikuwa Flute Man.